You cannot measure time by Tom Cruise's face.
Oh, I know. He's lost some of his baby roundness and become more chiseled over the years. But wrinkles? Sags? Spots? There are none. We could be catty and wonder why, but I think we need to turn our attention to more pressing matters: analyzing his hairstyles.
You can measure time by his hair ... kinda. Like his face, Cruise's hair often proves unchanged and immobile. But there have been breaks from his cropped tradition, and oh, how fascinating they are!
It's fitting that his earliest roles also boast his most dramatic makeovers. Cruise wasn't a brand in the days of Taps, The Outsiders, and Legend. So he freely shaved his head for one, greased up his hair into an incredible pompadour for another, and happily sported a flowing ... shag ... thing for the last. (He also sports uncapped and unaligned teeth. Cute, really!) He's an unmolded Cruise, almost embryonic, with shades of possibility. Had things turned differently, he may have gone the Daniel Day-Lewis route, altering himself drastically for every role he took.
But the shining star beckoned, and throughout these early follicle experimentations, we see the recognizable Cruise cropping up. He boasts swooping '80s bangs (reminiscent of today's news anchors) in Losin' It, a careless I'll-just-shove-this-out-of-my-face style in All the Right Moves (it veers dangerously close to mullet, but Cruise was too smart to pin himself into a dated corner), and the rich-boy feathering of Risky Business. None of it is too period, all of it is flattering, and it fits what Cruise would later become: a guy who always looks like he didn't try, not really, how kind of you to compliment him...
It's Top Gun that ushers in The Official Cruise Look: Short, sexy, with just a hint (just a hint, mind you, he's not one of those guys) of length and styling. It's not as severe as it probably should be for a naval aviator, but this was a male fantasy first and foremost, so there's nary a cheap haircut or crewcut to be seen. Whenever Cruise's career is in doubt, he brings this haircut back -- sometimes with longer bangs, sometimes with shorter ones, but always falling just so along the forehead.
But it wasn't sealed just yet. It was the 1980s, and Cruise was one of the hottest tickets around. His confidence is all over his The Color of Money pompadour. "I can hold my own with Paul Newman," his hair boasts. "I'm like Robert DeNiro in this thing -- right, Marty Scorsese?"
He allows himself to be tamed -- but just barely -- for Cocktail, where he boasts a more rakish version of the gel bangs. Oh, how they screamed "Come hither, ladies!" in 1988, before we realized men would use up all our styling products trying to imitate them, and we'd have to hide them from that decade on.
And does anything say Me Generation more than his Rainman blowout? Even Michael Douglas has to give that a respectful nod. Just think of the hours that takes to style with a round brush.
So much success -- and so much glamor -- led to a rare break for Cruise. He decided he needed to prove himself, really prove himself, and that he needed to be more Day-Lewis about it. Born on the Fourth of July is one of his most radical looks to date. He boasts an awesome 1970s mustache and long hippie hair that even Forrest Gump's Captain Dan would envy. It remains one of his best performances, but failed to nab him an Oscar or a deeper critical appreciation.
Undaunted, Cruise dyed his hair red and put on an Irish accent for Far and Away, only to be derided for both. It's too bad. Those red highlights are beautiful.
Wounded, wondering what else he could do, our man retreated back into Classic Cruise -- A Few Good Men and The Firm -- before deciding the third time was the charm. He rocked everyone's world by going blonde and curly for Interview with the Vampire. It looked weird and wrong. Some people are meant to be brunettes, and just slapping a wig on them just doesn't work, even if they are supposed to look unnatural. (I distinctly remember him rocking a modified and bleached Lestat look in public during filming, but Google Image doesn't back up this up. He's wearing it a little longer as he's doing rounds for The Firm, but nothing like the bleached mess I remember.)
The Lestat sniggering (and the continued questioning of his sexuality) led Cruise to retreat back into his safety coif -- Mission: Impossible, Jerry Maguire -- before really jumping off the deep end with whatever the heck lived and died on his head for Vanilla Sky, Magnolia, and Mission: Impossible 2. Scruffy was in, Cruise was kind of out, and he decided it would be cool if he ran around with grease and scruff. Being newly single probably had something to do with it as well. Someone forgot to tell him, "Hey ladies, I'll just hang out on your couch and complain about my ex-wife," wasn't a good vibe to send out to dates.
Minority Report is the one anomaly -- a brief flicker of the old Top Gun crop -- before he rocked even longer locks and a wilder beard for The Last Samurai. One might even suspect the Top Gun sci-fi crop was a hair hat he put on just for Steven Spielberg, and all that feathered wonder was shoved underneath. I totally think that's the case.
And then -- then! -- Cruise played his first bad guy in Collateral. It was big news! A big departure! But it's as if he didn't trust himself, or he didn't want audiences to get confused ("Ha ha, no really, I'm just playing a character, guys! I'm really a nice guy!") because a change of heroic pace required a complete swap of hair color. IMDb claims this was because it was decided the character should be older and he was forced to do it. Personally, I don't think it's an accident that his one cold-blooded killer cannot be mistaken for Classic Tom Cruise. The blocky Clint Eastwood cut was a nice touch, though. Villains always have stiff, unfriendly haircuts. It's a proven fact.
But then Cruise jumped the couch, went off on Matt Lauer, Brooke Shields, and psychology, and just kind of scared everyone. It was accompanied by Cruise sporting a bizarre Zac Efron/Justin Bieber style in real life, which whispered of something scary hiding under that forehead. (Wrinkles?) But it wasn't long before he retreated back into his clean Maverick standby, as if to remind us all what a handsome, dazzling guy he was.
It's a look he's maintained now for the last few films and years, with a few exceptions. (Google Image indicates there's been a few military buzz cuts in there, but I can't seem to pin down a year or a film they match.) The first is, of course, the movie that allegedly made him popular again: Tropic Thunder. For once, Cruise ugling himself up really paid off, and no one could get enough of his paunchy, bald Les Grossman. Oh my God, can you believe he did that? How crazy! What a rebel!
The second break from well-oiled tradition is the upcoming Rock of Ages, which sees him enjoying the kind of long and loose curls he hasn't sported since he matched them with fangs. It's a risk. A big one. And I could be talking about the whole Cruise-in-a-musical thing, but we both know that's not what's going to matter to Cruise. If it fails at the box office, he'll crop it all off, pull out those little bangs, and remind us all he looks just like he did in 1986 ... and that's not creepy ... no, not at all...